First edition of Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' sets auction record with $1.1m sale price

The 'exceptionally rare' copy went for four to six times its estimate

Mary Shelley may have only made a third of the net profits from the initial run of 500 copies of Frankenstein in 1818, but today she would have raked in more than $1 million from just one of those same books.

A first edition of the story of Victor Frankenstein has sold at a New York auction for a record-breaking $1.17m, setting a new world auction record for a printed work by a woman.

The story follows a young scientist who fashions a monster out of body parts in an unorthodox experiment, and is widely considered to be one of the world's first science-fiction novels, with themes that are still as relevant today.

Christie's, which hosted the auction, had estimated it would go for $200,000-300,000, but it instead went for four to six times that price.

It was part of The Exceptional Literature Collection of Theodore B Baum, which closed on September 14 and sold across two live and online sales, totalling $9,657,875.

An inscribed first edition of Bram Stoker's Dracula, which sold for $275,000, also set an auction record, while the top-selling work in the online portion was a presentation copy of the first edition of James Joyce's Dubliners, which went for more than $150,000 above estimate, at $400,000.

'Exceptionally rare'

The Frankenstein was an 1818 first edition, uncut in original boards. It was published anonymously in London by Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, and included a preface written by Percy and a dedication to the author’s father, William Godwin.

Christie's said copies such as these are "exceptionally rare".

It is the first copy of the story to be auctioned since 1985.

The story, which Shelley had famously dreamt up while staying by Lake Geneva with husband Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, was contentious for the times.

“The manufacture of a creature from human parts without divine assistance was highly controversial,” according to Miranda Seymour, author of the biography Mary Shelley.

Back then, Scottish novelist Walter Scott praised Shelley's "original genius" and "uncommon powers of poetic imagination", but a critique in Quarterly Review pondered "whether the head or the heart of the author be the most diseased".

Today, as Christie's puts it, it is known as a "masterpiece of gothic horror" and "has now reached the same mythic cultural status as Don Quixote and Robinson Crusoe".

Updated: September 21st 2021, 9:49 AM